Friday, January 25, 2008

Florida Yokels in Yellowstone Winter

Click on the square thumbnails to see full images...then Back button to read on.

We had the good fortune to visit Yellowstone National Park over New Years... quite a treat for a couple of snow-naive adventurous Floridians. The flights were problematic, but we finally got to Gardiner, MT about 3 am... only a few hours before our scheduled 4 hour snow coach ride into the heart of the park.

The snowcoach is a van with tracks instead of wheels. With our daughter, her boyfriend, and his Wyoming family (who had invited us along), we piled into the coach in pre-dawn darkness and sub-zero temperatures. I was honored with 'shotgun'. A gentle mist and occasional snow flurries shrouded the land, but within half an hour, we spotted 5 wolves close to a bison carcass maybe 50 yards from the road. Our knowledgeable guide, Big Dave, graciously stopped and allowed us to get out for a better view. While the visibility wasn't great, the wolves, in their misty blue landscape, thrilled us all. It was an auspicious beginning.

The rest of the ride was remarkable in many ways, but I'll share just one more story, well, maybe two. While stopped to view some of the first bison we saw (later, they surrounded our coach as we slowly followed a herd along the road), we saw an eagle fly in and land on the ground nearby. On closer look, there was a pair of eagles who were contentedly tearing into a recently killed trumpeter swan. Exciting enough! However, a minute later, one of the bison broke from the herd and ambled toward the eagles. As he drew near, his tail lifted. Uh oh! We had learned that this meant one of two things - he was about to take a dump OR he was pissed and ready to charge. As he picked up speed, the eagles scattered... but only to land a few yards away. The bison stopped when he arrived at the dead swan, sniffed it, licked it, and then stood there, as if to guard it. The eagles were distraught. This image shows them pacing and flapping their wings about, as if to say, "Hey, how dare you?! Get away from our breakfast". But the bison was steadfast and soon joined by the rest of the herd, surrounding the dead swan as though it was a recently deceased calf. We had to leave while this standoff continued. Bison appear to stay the course.

At another stop at Gibbon Falls, our daughter and Flo (a high school exchange student from Belgium) traded dares and both slid down a steep snowy hillside. While fun in theory, a good bit of the flying snow found its way inside their jackets and other layers . In my passion to get a good image at the bottom of the hill, I too caught a full spray of wetter-than-expected snow in my face and camera. What did I expect? How much more fun was in store in the days ahead!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rescue of theTortured Hawk

On Thursday, several of us headed out to explore and photograph the Aucilla River. Turned out the water level was too low, so we only made three miles (in several hours) and had to give up. (I did get some good photos though.) The former shoals and rapids were mere beds of sharp, slippery rocks. Anyway, two of us were waiting where we pulled our boats out (near a road) while the others walked back to get the car. Something white flashed in the woods and caught Liz's eye. It turned out to be this beautiful red-tailed hawk.
She must have dived low over the river to catch a fish and instead, got caught on someone's abandoned trot line. The hook snagged her right elbow. Luckily the line broke and she was able to fly up to this tree.... but then the line got tangled on the tree. The hawk was able to stand on a small branch, with her wing pulled overhead, but she was exhausted when we found her. A predator would surely have found her before morning... but, lucky again, we found her. I climbed to where I could throw a shirt over her, and a couple more to disable the talons and beak, then cut the line and the little branch (so she could keep holding on). She stared into my eyes the entire time, threatening a little, but never struggling. She gratefully swallowed water I dribbled into her mouth and rode to town swaddled on my lap.
Sue called the Animal Hospital to let them know we were bringing her in, though we wished we'd called St. Francis directly and talked with Sandy because the vet needed St. Francis's directives before they could treat her. She was quite shocky, but, I hope in pretty good shape. She didn't seem to have any broken bones. I hope to hear from St. Francis about how she's doing. My imagination sees her getting rehabilitated, released, and soaring once again over the Aucilla River.